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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Silencing Women – The Populist Discourse of Illiberal Democracy

Robert Sata
Central European University
Robert Sata
Central European University

Although Hungarian PM Viktor Orban declared that he does not deal with ‘women issues’ (he did so recalling the female ambassador to the US), he just put women in the center of his government program. He wants to make an agreement with women about the future of Hungary. What will this future bring to women? Orban hopes they can produce enough babies to ensure the hegemony of the Carpathian basin, to avoid economic decline, and to prevent the Islamization of Europe. Women are to become baby machines in exchange for extra government funds, a preferential credit and a life-long tax exemption. Ever since Orban came to power and chose a radical right-wing populist pathway to build his illiberal discourse the re-politicization of gender politics has been on the political agenda. This paper will examine the populist discourse of the prime minister to illustrate how nativist conceptions, conservative preferences for traditional values, religious moralism and ethnicized nationalism all point towards silencing women, denying them equal rights or opportunities. Relying mainly on the official statements of Orban, the paper observes how the discursive construction of a Manichean world leads to exclusivist understanding of the nation, support for traditional family models and pro-natalist preferences. In a similar way, Orban’s desire to protect Christian Europe also strengthens opposition to sexual equality in line with religious standards. This discursive construction of the supremacy of the nation and national interest not only favors the adoption of majoritarian rules at the expense of minorities but also influences gendered norms and practices in politics and society. While individual liberties suffer, advocates for women movements or equal rights activists are labeled traitors of the nation and a threat to national interest. The rejection of liberal democracy thus creates a political discourse of social and religious conservatism of the 19th century that justifies the banning of gender studies programs at Hungarian universities, arguing the area of study is an ideology rather than a science. Illiberal democracy is thus legitimized by the discursive processes that contest liberal freedoms, cultural diversity, and gender equality that on turn lead to anti-gender mobilization and a state-sponsored anti-feminism.
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